Jen Gaskell

Wife, mom, business professional, writer, singer, dancer, runner, and yogi. Survivor of Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety. Co-producer of Listen To Your Mother Milwaukee. Stretching beyond my comfort zone.

How Trauma Complicated My Postpartum Anxiety

How Trauma Complicated My Postpartum Anxiety

Anxiety left unchecked turns everything into a crisis. My postpartum anxiety mainly centered around my daughters. I was convinced that each cough, each fever, and every infection was the one that would send my daughters into the hospital.  

I constantly checked each of the girls’ foreheads. I would ask my husband daily to check to see if they felt warm. Whenever the girls would get sick, I felt so helpless and powerless.

It took lots of work to recognize that this was just fear, but old habits are hard to break. I still check both girls at night before I go to bed to make sure that they are still breathing. On the days that I leave the house before they wake up, I check in on them in the morning as well to make sure that they are still breathing.

Part of this anxiety stemmed from my own childhood.  

I lost my baby brother when I was three years old. This manifested itself in a fear that babies are very fragile. Babies don’t keep. This led to an irrational fear that my girls will die even though they are perfectly healthy.  

We had to change pediatricians after our beloved first pediatrician left medicine. When we met our new pediatrician, I let her know that I ask a lot more questions than the average mom. I told her that I struggle with anxiety and that my anxiety is heightened around my daughters’ health. For each doctor visit, I prepare a list of questions for the doctor. This helps me to focus on the questions I need to ask and to keep the anxiety at bay.

Another part of my anxiety stems from my youngest daughter’s medical condition. The day before I was to return to work from maternity leave, she was admitted into our local children’s hospital for a urinary tract infection. She has bladder reflux which makes her prone to urinary tract infections. Since she was less than three months old, our pediatrician admitted her into the hospital to be treated with IV antibiotics. Untreated urinary tract infections can lead to kidney infections which made me as a second time mama freak out. What if it developed into something worse?

Then I felt guilty. My daughter was on the wing with kids who struggle with epilepsy and other neurological disorders. So many other children were in the hospital who were seriously ill. I could eat food in my daughter’s room. I did not need to gown up prior to entering my daughter’s room. Our stay was very temporary unlike the children who had been in the hospital for months compared to our three-day stay.

It look therapy for me and lots of writing for me to find peace and catharsis from this experience. Her hospitalization traumatized me. I am so grateful that I had a pediatrician who supported our entire family during this experience of my daughter’s hospitalization and her subsequent diagnosis.  

Trauma leaves an impact on us. I had to recognize the fact that my anxiety was exacerbated by this trauma. Once I understood the root of this fear, I could manage my reactions.

Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

emotional healthOne of the main themes on our Patient Forum is the fear that something is physically wrong with the struggling mama.  This fear can paralyze a mama from action.  First things first, get a physical to make sure that you do not have any physical conditions that could be exacerbating your anxiety and depression.  I did find out through my recovery from PPA and PPD that I also struggled with a gastrointestinal issue that flared when my anxiety was at its peak.  Other Warrior Moms have discovered that they had thyroiditis that can mimic the symptoms of postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety.

What does anxiety and panic feel like?  For me it feels like I am suffocating under the weight of total overwhelm.  Anxiety begins as prickles to me.  All the sounds seem too loud.  I cannot concentrate.  I start to lose patience.  My level of irritation rises.  My hands begin to shake.  I feel like my entire body is erupting in hives.  I start to itch at my scalp or my arms.  My ability to do several things at once comes to a screeching halt.  I shake my head to try to clear the mental fog that is forming.  I develop tunnel vision.

When my anxiety is left unchecked and festers into a panic attack, I am left physically and emotionally drained.  It is the equivalent of doing fartleks, speed sprints for those of you non-runners.  I am gasping for air.  I am nearing hyperventilation.  My fingers and toes are tingling.  I lose sensation in my face.  My entire face flushes.  It begins in my ears and rises from my neck . After the panic attack subsides, I lose all color in my face.  I am chilled to the bone after sweating profusely.  I feel like someone has literally wrung me out like a limp dishcloth.  I feel as exhausted as I do after running my fastest sprints.  I want to curl up wherever I am under soft blankets with my favorite pillow and take a nap.

Although I loathed the physical symptoms of anxiety and panic during the depths of my struggle with postpartum anxiety, I think of them now as warming signs.  I still struggle with anxiety from time to time.  My physical symptoms are reminders to me that I need to stop and get quiet.  When I am physically present in my body during yoga or meditation, I can focus on my emotional and mental state.  I can start to cue into how I am feeling, and I can take action.  I use all the tools in my tool box to combat my anxiety: writing, meditation, yoga, sleep, exercise, eating healthy, therapy and medication.

How does your anxiety manifest itself for you?  Is it different from mine?  Is it similar? Have you also found co-existing conditions along with your postpartum anxiety?




Worth Every Moment: Charity’s Struggle with Postpartum Depression

I am so honored to welcome Warrior Mom Charity today to share her story.  Charity struggled  with postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety with a psychotic episode.

Charity girls
I have three little girls, ages 8, 7 and 4.  Bringing each home was a joy.  An amazing joy.   Bringing home the youngest, Patrice, was the easiest transition in mothering.  There is a knowledge and ease that comes with experience.  I knew my mothering style, knew how to juggle.

What I didn’t know was the feeling of insomnia with a newborn.  And the intense emotions that came—good, bad and ugly.  The tears.  The fear.  The need to be busy.  All.the.time.

How could I be crying and upset—I honestly and truly looked at my life and loved it more than I ever had.  But every day I had to be busy!  The girls and I went—to the library, the zoo, the park.  We did—baking, crafts, projects.  My level of activity kept having to go up.  I had to move and do to escape the thoughts, to escape the tears, to escape the abyss.

My midwife and I were in contact daily.  She talked me through the waiting period before we could adjust my thyroid medications.  And then the time we had to wait to see if that resolved the myriad of emotions.

Time was not my friend.  I started medication.  It helped a little.  A very little.  So we upped the dose.  That did not help, not at all.  I suddenly couldn’t stop going—I had to be busy.  Bonus—my house was spotless; not such a bonus—I was a wreck.

I could no longer control some of my thoughts.  I would think over and over, ”I’ll get Patrice to my midwife; she can take her home and love her, and hubby can handle the other two.”  Until one morning that was the only thought.  I loved my girls, but I could not figure out how to be their mommy.  So I packed them up, and went to my midwife.

“Will you just take them home and love them?” I sobbed as she hugged me.  Her staff got my girls out of the room, and she let me cry…and so began 6 ½ hours of conversation, tears, and being hospitalized.

The behavioral health facility was the worst experience of my life, but it was where I needed to be.  I was safe. My girls were safe.

Over the next few days, I was taken off medication.  My midwife found me a therapist who specialized in postpartum depression, and I started new therapies.

That was 3 ½ years ago.  It has not been the easy resolution I thought it would be.  Medication did not fix it all.  I am back on a higher dose, seeing a doctor and a therapist, working on getting better for my girls.

I am fighting for them.  They are worth every moment.

And I have found a lot of help along the way.  I discovered the #PPDCHAT group on twitter (every Monday at 9:00pm EST), the wonderful website, and women who have been there or are there.  I have discovered community.

Depression looks different for everyone.  Mine did not involve a desire to sleep, rather a desperate need to be busy.  I did not want to escape my children; rather, I couldn’t bear to be away from them.  I did not cry out of sadness, rather due to a desperate feeling threatening to overwhelm me.  I did withdraw from people to an extent; I did give up activities I enjoyed.

Getting well has required a level of self-discovery and honesty I didn’t know I possessed.  It has required a lot of help from others.  Help I often hate, but need.  It has caused me to give up a lot of what I thought depression and anxiety looked like in order to get help for what it looks in me.  It has required a strength I didn’t know I possessed, to fight—for my girls.

Have you, or someone you know, recently given birth, adopted or weaned a baby?  Postpartum depression and anxiety can develop any time within the first year after birth, or after weaning a nursling.  Adoptive moms are by no means immune to postpartum mood disorders.  Postpartum depression is not baby blues, which is a feeling of sadness or erratic emotions beginning a few days after birth and resolving within a few weeks.  Postpartum depression lasts longer, or develops later and interferes with the ability to function as yourself.

If you are a new mom, for the first, third or tenth time, be honest with your care providers or those who care about you.  If you know a new mom, ask her how she is—really is.  Hear what she is saying, hear what she isn’t saying.  Please check, twitter hashtag #ppdchat, or my blog at  You can find my posts about this journey under depression.

You, and those you know, are worth every moment of fight, every bit of the hard.


Charity birthday

Charity has been blogging for 4 ½ years. She started blogging to share her faith, family and cute kids. Four weeks after her third daughter’s birth, Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety hit her like a ton of bricks and she became part of the percentage of women who had latent Bipolar Disorder awakened by the postpartum mood disorders.  Through Charity’s writing she displays her struggles in even the darkest of moments. In sharing her story with others, Charity hopes that others see you can parent successfully even with mental illness. Her writing can be found on her blog or on Project Semicolon.

Warrior Mom Conference – Need your Questions

We wget answersant to hear from our warrior mom community as we begin our first ever Warrior Mom Conference.  The first morning of the conference is filled with an amazing panel of speakers.  We will have a moderated question and answer session.  Follow along with us on social media as we live tweet the question and answer session.  We want to hear from you.  Our speakers that are part of the Educate & Empower panel are Dr. Ruta Nonacs, Mara Acel-Green, Dr. Lekeisha Sumner, and Peggy Kaufman.

Here are a few questions to get you thinking.  What do you wish you had known about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders? How can we help moms access treatment more easily?  What obstacles have you faced with regards to finding the right treatment?  How can we increase our reach to underserved communities?  What type of community supports should be in place? If you have encountered obstacles in finding community support, what were they?  Submit your comments to the Facebook page.